Now, I’m not saying working fathers don’t face challenges. But by the nature of the fact that women are the ones who have to grow a human for 9 months, then give birth and breastfeed, there are some inherent differences in the experience of having a child while trying to maintain a career.
Most of the time, women take maternity leave, not men. This can be for a number of reasons including who has the higher salary, a lack of parental leave benefits for the men, access to the source for breastfeeding etc.
Even though society has come a long way in terms of equalizing gender roles in the family, there still seems to be a stereotype/expectation that women should stay at home. Moms who choose to go back to work right away often face judgement for that decision. When women do return to work they often experience guilt. The bulk of this guilt comes from the norms established in their upbringing and some from social expectations. But, there is also a physiological response brought about by the maternal instinct to protect and nurture. On top of all of this, women often feel like they’ve lost ground at work relative to their peers and like they need to catch up.
Women can also experience “Mommy brain” (which this study suggests is a real thing) where women are not as quick or as sharp as they remember themselves being. Sometimes they feel out of touch because their conversations have shifted to focus on kids vs. the business or career context they used to have. All of this can lead to feeling isolated and torn between work and family.
Although this might seem counter-intuitive given many career women already feel constant pressure, but finding personal time to recharge and regenerate is critical to avoiding burnout and maintaining health and well-being–and a lot of moms put themselves last.
This raises the question–do women have to sacrifice family in order to have a career? Can you have both? Ladies, I’m sorry to say I don’t have a definitive answer. The answer to that is – it depends.
It depends on your definition of success.
A realistic way to approach this question is to look at the 24 hours in a day, subtract how many you need for sleep, work, family and other activities (like that never-ending pile of laundry). There is only so much time to work with and taking a look at the basic survival needs + work and family commitments will help educate your expectations. If the house is messy, is that ok? If you work an extra hour, is that ok?
What are your top 3 values in life? What kind of relationship do you want to have with your kids and what do you need to do to create that? They won’t be little forever. One of the most effective exercises is to map out your career over your offspring’s expected number of years living at home (which seems to be getting longer and longer) and determine if you will be successful at having both.
One of my clients recently quit because her company is expanding and her fourth child is still at home and to stay on in her career would have required more time. She decided, at this point in time, her children were a priority. Sometimes women are told this is a sacrifice, but it can also be an intentional decision.
Another client just hired a nanny because she had so much guilt about not being home, raising her child. But she also recognized that staying at home all the time was not good for her mental health. She was not a happy mom. Now, the quality of relationship will be there where it wasn’t before but it took a little over a year for her to come to the decision as she felt like she was less of a mom for hiring a nanny, and that she was shirking her responsibilities.
There is a double standard in our society where we judge women who decide to stay at home and not work while also judging women who choose to both pursue a career and have children. The bottom line is that women, and their partners, need to make choices that are right for them and sustainable for the long term.